NHL Extra: Breaking down Penguins vs. Rangers

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Looking for the numbers breakdown for how these two teams stack up? Look no further as we’ve got you covered as the Rangers take on the Penguins at 12:30 p.m. ET from CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

PHT Previews

Pens coach Dan Bylsma keeps it together in Pittsburgh

Kris Letang slumping at the wrong time?

Are the Rangers playing Henrik Lundqvist too much?

Lundqvist plays today, Marc Staal and Sean Avery do not

Team scoring

Pittsburgh has scored 206 goals this season and plenty of those from guys not named Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Those goals are good for 12th in the NHL and their 2.83 goals per game is good for 10th in the NHL. They’re led by Chris Kunitz with 20 goals and Tyler Kennedy is next with 16. Kris Letang is their leading points man with 46 which includes eight goals and 38 assists from the blue line.

The Rangers do pretty well putting the puck in the net themselves. They’ve scored 210 goals this year, good for 10th in the NHL and at 2.81 goals per game they’re 12th in the league on average. The goals can come from a host of players. Ryan Callahan leads the team with 22, but Marian Gaborik and Brian Boyle each have 21 while Brandon Dubinsky has 20. Dubinsky is the leading points getter with 47.

Goaltending

A pair of all world goalies face off here. For Pittsburgh it’s Marc-Andre Fleury who might be the guy most responsible for how well they’re doing this season. Fleury is 31-17-5 with a 2.35 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. His play this year has been outstanding after a shaky first month of the year and he’s helped keep Pittsburgh in position to have home ice in the first round of the playoffs at least and could help lead them overtake the Flyers in the division.

Henrik Lundqvist has been similarly brilliant for the Rangers. At 30-24-4 he’s seen a heavy workload but his 2.35 goals against average and .920 save percentage with nine shutouts prove that he’s been worth it for coach John Tortorella to keep going to him this year. When Lundqvist is on his game and the Rangers defense helps him out, he’s almost unbeatable.

Special teams

If there’s a problem with the Penguins it’s their power play. They score at a 16.2% rate with the man advantage, a mark that ranks them 23rd in the league. Obviously being without two of the best scorers in the NHL plays into that, but it’s still a maddeningly erratic thing for Pittsburgh. The Rangers have been very good on the man advantage scoring 17.8% of the time. With that they’ve got the 13th best power play in the league but scoring against Pittsburgh’s penalty killers presents a tough issue.

Pittsburgh’s PK is the best in the NHL killing off 86.9% of the power plays they face. Getting one by the Pens when they’re down a man takes great skill and a bit of luck. The Rangers PK is average killing off 83% of the power plays they face, a mark good for 14th in the league. If the game comes down to special teams, we might be waiting a while for something to happen.

Streaks and standings

Pittsburgh is second behind Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with 90 points. Those 90 points also put them fourth overall in the Eastern Conference just one point ahead of Tampa Bay. The Pens are six points behind the Flyers for first place but they’re playing well nonetheless having won four of their last five games and two in a row.

New York is in third place in the Atlantic Division with 80 points. They’re not a threat to catch either Pittsburgh or Philly in the division and are, instead, fighting for their playoff lives. The Rangers sit seventh in the East just two points ahead of eighth place Buffalo, four ahead of ninth place Carolina, and six ahead of 10th place Toronto.

Fighting and facewashing

Pittsburgh is one of the top fighting teams in the NHL so expect Rangers enforcer Brandon Prust to stay busy. As far as agitators go, Matt Cooke will play for the Pens while Sean Avery will be a healthy scratch for the Rangers. These two teams do not like each other at all so expect the agitation to come from everyone.

NHL Extra

If you’d like to ask James and I questions and get our thoughts on today’s game, you can join us for NHL Extra online and follow along with the action that way. To join us for NHL Extra click here. We’ll be kicking things off at 12:30 p.m.

Flames sign free agent defenseman Josh Healey

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The Calgary Flames announced on Saturday that they have signed undrafted free agent defenseman Josh Healey to a two-year entry level contract. He will join the Stockton Heat of the AHL for the remainder of this season on an Amateur Tryout contract before his entry level deal begins next season.

Healey, 22, has spent the past four seasons playing for Ohio State and has developed a reputation for being one of the biggest hitters and most physical players at the NCAA level.

“Hits too hard for college,” is how one NHL scout described his play back in February.

That style of play has resulted in him getting himself into hot some water in the form of several ejections and suspensions over the past two seasons.

Along with his willingness to play a physical game, Healey’s offensive game took off a bit during his junior and senior seasons, including the 2016-17 season when he finished as the top scoring defenseman on the Buckeyes with 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 35 games.

In 133 games over four years at Ohio State he has accumulated 212 penalty minutes, leading the team by a pretty wide margin the past two years.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.